Montserrat Caballé was one of the great sopranos of the 20th century. For many, she was the iconic opera superstar with a powerful artistry that was only matched by her renowned generosity and kindness as a person. She sang with almost all of the great artists of the second half of the 20th century and left a plethora of recordings.
A review from The Guardian once noted that “Montserrat Caballé is the finest bel canto soprano of the post-Callas age. For those who prize sheer beauty of sound and true legato singing, she has no peer since Rosa Ponselle in the 1920s.”
Her artistry is wide and vast and in honor of her passing on Oct. 6, 2018, we will take a glance at five different facets of her greatness.
Caballé is often remembered for her powerful voice that could fill any hall with ease. But let’s take a step back and just admire her incredible legato and ability to phrase in more delicate moments. When at her best, Caballé made everything sound easy and sublime. This is especially noticeable in some of her best recordings, including that of “Aida” with Riccardo Muti and “Adriana Lecouvreur.”
But, here she is in the ultimate display of legato phrasing, “Casta Diva.”
In addition to her great artistry as an opera star, Caballé was a champion of zarzuela throughout her career. She recorded zarzuela extensively and even won a number of awards throughout her career for her work in the genre. The soprano famously noted that she was most proud of the awards that she won for her country’s music.
Caballé was also a great actress and many of her finest performances were hallmarked by her ability to dominate on the stage not only through her vocal presence but her physicality. She reminded people of that long after her vocal career had come to its end when she appeared in a cameo of “La Fille du Régiment.”
She didn’t really mix it up or sing anything outside of the classical music world, but she did make this celebrated recording with none other than Freddie Mercury, making herself a household name in the process.
Finally, here is a display of Caballé’s sublime breath support at the ending of “Don Carlo.” Her studio recording of the opera is quite remarkable, but her live performances are really a testament to her greatness in this role. Most sopranos can’t do both arias that Elisabetta is tasked with, precisely because they struggle with the breath control in the first aria and the subsequent duets. But not Caballé she dominated every face of that role. And to clinch her prowess as the definitive Elisabetta, she put her stamp on the very last note in a way that no one else ever has or probably ever will.
Just listen to the following excerpt and remember that she has sung through the entire opera to this point and still has enough to extend that powerful high note to the end for a whopping 16 seconds over a blazing orchestra. Rumor has it that tenor Franco Corelli was not amused, however.